I have always been a wee bit conflicted by food prep. On one hand the concept of pre-preparing meals for the week ahead is highly appealing. The savings on both time and money make it a no brainer. Working full time with two prepubescent children and a husband, having good quality, homemade meals up my sleeve during the week provides a deep sense of satisfaction. (Or possibly self-satisfaction is more accurate; I do have to suppress the smugness).
Lunchtimes too benefit from a selection of pre-made meals boxed and stacked in the fridge ready for the week ahead. But it’s the word selection that’s striking. Because the other side of meal prepping or batch cooking, is the impact it can have on the variety of the meals you eat. I've heard people talk about preparing a huge batch of bolognaise to eat for the rest of the week. This depresses me. I don’t want to eat the same meal for lunch or dinner or even lunch and dinner all week. For this reason, if you’re a batch cooker, it helps to have a big freezer and the discipline to rotate your pre-prepared meals.
Whether you batch cook your lunch or buy it, research suggests that most of us eat the same thing regularly. A survey of 2000 people conducted in 2017 by New Covent Garden Soup found that one in six people ate the same lunch every day for at least two years. This sits at odds with my mission to include as much nutritional variety into my diet as possible.
The other element of meal prepping for the week I just can’t reconcile myself with is the idea that you can cook a week of meals in just one hour. Websites, YouTube videos, and books all espouse this trend of amassing multiple portions in ever decreasing time spans. I have no doubt some are founded on well balanced meal plans with nutritional value. But dig a little deeper and some of these timesaver plans rely on easy meals incorporating less ingredients.
Easy is the key word, with recommendations to use canned vegetables “because they cook quicker” or pre-prepared frozen vegetables. There’s nothing wrong with the odd short cut here and there, and it’s proven that frozen vegetables can be more nutrient dense than fresh. It’s hard to match the texture of fresh vegetables with frozen though and reducing ingredients can certainly have an impact on taste.
For me, weekend meal prep is less about volume and more about creating colourful, varied options that make the week ahead easier and at a minimum ensure I have five healthy lunches to take to work. I take a little more time in my kitchen at the weekend to prep food and enjoy the process. This is what I prepared this morning between 9:30am – 12:30pm
- Spiced parsnip soup (Sunday lunch and four portions for the freezer). I tend to use this recipe from BBC Good Food
- My persian inspired vegetarian roast (Sunday dinner and will provide three lunch portions
- My healthy peanut butter flapjacks (for lunch boxes)
I’m not out to set any records for the most meals prepped or money and time saved, but at least I don’t have to think about my lunches this week (and I’ve got some leftover chicken from Saturday’s dinner for a salad to start the week on Monday).